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6/1/2011 – Arzus to Qastal Maaf (Syria)

February 4, 2011
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Fresh from yesterdays questioning Sasha and Harry are a little alarmed to find the camp spot we chose in the dark is in close proximity to some rather ominous camoflauged military buildings. The promise of Syria this afternoon helps to ease the early rise, Harry teases us out of slumber with a cup of brew.

The road winds down through sleepy villages on to a track which hugs the coast. 2 Turkish guys are looking perplexed and flag us down to help them. In their hands they’re holding a European number plate with an S beneath the 12 blue stars – Serbia, no? Slovakia, perhaps? Sweden? We can’t help but they look quite pleased with their find.

The track lets us take in the vast ocean which sits no more than 10 meters to our right, there isn’t a ripple in the water’s surface which looks like a giant sheet of silk. We all find ourselves stopping at the road side to take in the calming vista, the ocean has a meditative effect. This contrasts with a raw and jagged rock face which intermittently protrudes into the water but for the most part sits on our left – Its imposing but the combination of the clam flat ocean and the noisy rock face create some spectacular scenery- Cameras at the ready!

Around the next corner and a lone man sits on a fold away chair facing the ocean, on the track sits a camper van and brand new scooter attached to the back. As i pass suspicious of his origin i spot the number plate at the front, 12 blue stars and an S sit proudly in between the wheels. I stop and a tall blonde man comes up the beach from his chair, Peter is Swedish and travelling alone, we chat about why we’re both on this track – He’s driven the coast we would have done had we not gone to Cappadocia and lovingly retells stories of its beauty and warmth, damn. He’s got a great attitude and talks about how he travels to meet people, which he sees as much more important than cultural sites, cultural sites will be around for thousands of years but the people change. He also regails his dis like of cities like London where you can be so close to people (stuffed into their armpit on a crowded train) yet be so unconnected. Where as on this quiet track in the middle of nowhere he’s met and chatted to everyone that has past him.

We eat our own lunch in a fish restaurant and drink tea and chat with the owner. He runs boat tours during the summer months and talks highly of Europeans who he says even if they’re old are out exploring the world unlike Turkish people who get old and sit in their house until they die, a rather grim view. We’re closer to the border than we think so looks like we’ll be camping in Syria tonight, providing we can get through. We’re a little unsure about our chances, we’ve read on the internet that its no problem to simply rock up but we’ve also heard alot of scare stories on the road, 8 hours of waiting, visa rejections, so it’s a little unkown. Im hoping that i’ll be able to ring my parents that evening with a fresh Syrian visa and the green light for them to book their flights to Damascus.

Through Yayladagi a huge hill looms in the near distance with a small steep road hugging the side right to the top. Our hearts sink and we all begin praying that our route won’t be taking us up that. As ever with borders, the hills are a good place to demark territory so we begin the steep climb. Its a real bastard of a climb, steep and un relenting with 400m stretches of pure lactic exercise before the road swings round on itself and you start the next run – Sweaty Betty.

Luckily a cafe owner hauls us in and gives us some tea whilst we enjoy the amazing view from his whilst trying to regain some sort of composure. He tells us its not to much further to the border and we’ve done the majority of the climbing. Phew!

Well what a load of bulls*t the next two hours are spent solidly climbing and descending, climbing and descending. We climb into the mist and the prospect of reaching the border before sun down have disappeared somewhere down the side of the mountain. Slighlty concerned the border might be closed when we get there we push on cursing and getting our hopes up at every corner wishing the road would decend. It doesn’t come for a long time but the sunset is absolutely beautiful and gives us a positive slant to the slightly damp situation.

We make it to the border trying to think of a plausible story to tell as to why we dont already have a visa. We decide honesty is the best policy and to say we didn’t intend on coming to Syria and had we got one in the UK it would have run out by now. Entering the white room with two desks running the length of two walls and framed picture of a stoic looking Bashar Assad (El presidente) sitting on the wall – this is a proper visa crossing and we’re full of excited nervousness.

Forms are filled and we try to explain that we’re after a 30 day multiple entry visa so we can visit Lebanon and then return to Syria. We’re told to sit and wait for the verdict to come back from Damascus. The next two hours are spent wandering around, asking if we can cook our dinner outside and being told that its definately not possible and chatting to the border guards about the state of English courtship amongst the youth.

Verdicts back – 3 day transit visa to get to the border with Lebanon! What! Our visions of taking it easy down the Syrian coast, visiting the Crusader castle Crac de Chevaliers and chilling out are quickly destroyed. We try to contest saying that we firstly cannot physically do the miles on a bike an that we want to see Syria not bomb straight through it. They don’t budge and we quickly have to work out if its actually possible to make the Lebanese border in 3 days, looking at the map it is possible if we do 80kms a day but its all on motorway and hardly ideal… Its our only option and we pay our $52 begrudginly – Looks like we’re hitting it hard tomorrow. We ensure that the time is marked on the visa so we havent lost a day by crossing at 10pm and they tell us its 72hours from the time we get the stamp, any less and we wont make it.

Into Syria we find a camp spot in the bit of forest as the rain begins to fall. Phone calls to the relevant parents are made to inform them of our stunted visa situation. Better get some rest before the next 3 days of hammering it.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Nick Craddock permalink
    February 4, 2011 12:35 pm

    Good luck with that, chaps!

  2. February 4, 2011 1:31 pm

    Oh no, what a pity – good luck for the next few days thought guys – will be thinking of you!

  3. Lydia permalink
    February 6, 2011 9:57 pm

    Wow. sounds crazy epic…! Amazing. Good luck, hope you make it in time! x

  4. deborah Simmons permalink
    February 10, 2011 3:48 pm

    wow you are still alive! tried to check out the blog last week and couldn’t get onto it so was a bit worried! keep going…well done… deb x

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